LL-FWF04


River deltas as living landscapes: movement, management, and the critique of a commonplace 
Convenors:
Tanya Richardson (Wilfrid Laurier University)
Franz Krause (University of Cologne)
Stream:
Living landscapes: Food and Water Flows/Paysages vivants: Flots d'aliments et d'eau
Location:
MNT 204
Start time:
4 May, 2017 at 8:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:
2

Short Abstract:

This panel explores river deltas as living landscapes in order to probe the ways in which a river end may exist as something other than a delta, and the implications of (not) recognizing this.

Long Abstract

Life along rivers and coasts is anything but static. The places commonly referred to as "deltas" are not only sites of dense movements of substances, animals, people, technology and expertise. They also fluctuate among liquid, solid and other in-between states of matter.

Deltas have recently received renewed attention from anthropologists and other social scientists. Some study deltas because of their vulnerability due to climate change; others explore the imaginative potential of their alterity for undoing modern land/water and nature/culture oppositions, and the often destructive management practices they enable.

Yet, a tendency remains to assume that the area characterized by sediment deposits and multiple distributaries at the end of a river IS essentially a delta, even in accounts that trace different delta ontologies. The assumption that a river end is necessarily a delta naturalizes a historically specific hydrological enactment that was codified in The Netherlands and travelled with Dutch expertise via colonial and development encounters.

This panel will investigate deltas as living landscapes in order to probe how a river end may exist as something other than a delta, and the implications of (not) recognizing this. What practices, processes, infrastructures, and stories compose river ends as living landscapes that exceed expert hydrological enactments? In what ways have inhabitants appropriated expert hydrological knowledge or been displaced by it? How might the existence of river ends as something other than deltas open up new conversations about social and ecological justice, movement and fluctuation, and alternative futures for these more-than-human landscapes?

Accepted papers:

Author:

Franz Krause (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation outlines an approach to understanding life in the Mackenzie Delta that centres on its inhabitants’ amphibious predicaments and practices, described through their relationships with muskrat.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation outlines an approach to understanding life in the Mackenzie Delta that centres on its inhabitants' amphibious predicaments and practices. Specifically, it frames the Delta not as a geomorphologic formation but as a space of interactions with muskrats. These rodents that populate the interstices of water and land have played an important role in the economic history of the area's Gwich'in, Inuvialuit and other inhabitants; but my proposition is not a functionalist argument. The muskrat has been assigned symbolic meaning regionally, for instance it adorns the coat of arms of Aklavik, a hamlet in the central Delta; but my approach is not foremost semiotic. And although the resilient, volatile and amphibious qualities of muskrat populations bear a host of metaphoric potential for describing human life in the Delta, this is not the present purpose either.

Rather, this presentation probes the possibilities of describing life in the Mackenzie Delta through its entanglements with the amphibious multispecies relations in which the muskrat plays an important part alongside other plants and animals. A particular attention to muskrat relations can elucidate the specificities of this particular landscape without a priori framing it as a 'river delta'. The presentation is based primarily on existing literature in anthropology and related fields.

Author:

Whitney Larratt-Smith (University of California, Davis)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing from two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, this paper summarizes a chapter of my forthcoming dissertation on the material-discursive relations of waters downstream from the oil sands industry in the Peace-Athabasca Delta.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing from two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, this paper summarizes a chapter of my forthcoming dissertation on the material-discursive relations of waters downstream from the oil sands industry in the Peace-Athabasca Delta. I will present a photographic and spoken montage of experiences from intensive participant-observation in indigenous land/water-based practices to illuminate the multiplicity of fluvial relations imbricated in the delta's ecologies of life and death. Through ethnographic storytelling and selected photographs, I experiment in a 'visceral' anthropology to convey the mobile, fleshy relations of hunting, fishing, and trapping within the seasonal rhythms and transformations of the delta- through extreme subzero temperatures, sun, snow, hail and rain, slush and wind, quicksands and shifting riverbanks. Layered into the text will appear (as they appeared to me) articulations from my Cree, Dene, and Metis interlocutors about changes they were observing in the waters, landscape, animals and plants- deformed moose calves, varying colors and tastes of duck flesh, and the proliferation of willow trees are a few examples of local concerns emerging from their territorial practices. By thinking through these forms of witnessing within what I call 'zones of tactility' between the residents of Fort Chipewyan and energy infrastructure projects impacting the delta, this paper draws from and contributes to scholarship concerned with how humans engage in their surroundings (Ingold 2000, Kohn 2007, Cruickshank 2005) and the particular sensibilities about waters that emerge from and guide those engagements (Neimanis, McLeod and Chen 2013).

Author:

Tanya Richardson (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation seeks to convey Vilkovchani's sense of place in the Danube's reedbeds in order to experiment with displacing the scalar politics of the term "delta."

Paper long abstract:

This presentation reflects on the relative absence of the term "delta" in conversations with gardeners and fishermen from Vilkovo, a town I usually describe unreflectively as being located "in Ukraine's Danube Delta." The word "delta" has been used as a technical term to describe and compare the fan-like formations at river mouths for more than two millennia, including on the Danube/Ister. Yet, STS-inspired anthropologists remind us that a "delta" is not a single thing through time or across space even though the circulation of Dutch hydrological expertise in more recent history makes it seem as if this were so. Over the past two centuries different versions of the Danube Delta as a transportation corridor, reclaimed land, or a protected Ramsar wetland have overlapped and conflicted, often in the context of geopolitics. These "deltas" and their agents have often displaced, appropriated, or rendered problematic the knowledge, relations and dwelling practices of long-term river inhabitants. This paper describes Vilkovchani's relations with the elements of earth, air, water, and fire in order to render their sense of place in the plavni (reedbeds) where the Danube meets the Black Sea. In doing so, it seeks to displace the managerial scalar politics of encompassment that the statement "Vilkovo is in the Danube Delta" enacts. I reflect on what possibilities, if any, this might offer fishermen and gardeners in preventing the curtailment of their livelihoods.

Author:

Caterina Scaramelli (Amherst College)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the production of the Kızılırmak delta into a Turkish wetland. It argues that the production of Turkish wetlands required the integration of international categories of wetlands into national imaginaries, as well as the material making and remaking of landscapes themselves.

Paper long abstract:

Beginning in the 1990s, scientists, NGOs, residents, and bureaucrats have come to reimagine the Kızılırmak delta. Previously, they had cast it as a fertile agricultural region at the edge of coastal marshes: home to tobacco, melon, pepper, and cabbage fields, rice paddies, and herds of water buffaloes and sheep grazing in the lower plains. Now, the delta is seen as a font of biological diversity and cultural value, at risk of disappearing in the face of urban, industrial, and agricultural pressures. Overlapping definitions, conservation policies and boundaries, and changing infrastructure make delta wetlands unstable, liminal places. And the instability of the wetland — as a place and as a category— has allowed it to become a locus of varied nationalist, international, and civic imaginaries. This paper analyzes the production of the Kızılırmak delta into a Turkish wetland, arguing that the production of Turkish wetlands required the integration of international categories of wetlands into national imaginaries, as well as the material making and remaking of landscapes themselves. Turkey's participation in international wetland conservation science since the 1960s must be situated within national (and nationalist) political and agricultural histories. Rather than an abrupt shift from reclamation to conservation, attention to the ways the delta's environments were made and remade shows institutional, material, and ideological continuities.